The message of the spectacular grandstanding at Rashtrapati Bhavan’s forecourt on Thursday was the induction of new faces for pivotal positions in the cabinet.
The president of the Bharatiya Janata Party and master electoral strategist, Amit Shah, will, next to the Prime Minister, be quite the most prominent face in the new team as the country’s Home minister.
If he is able to bring his considerable management skills to bear on the country’s pressing security problems, it will be the paramount achievement of this administration. With Arun Jaitley backing out on health grounds, Nirmala Sitharaman ~ who never quite covered herself with glory in Defence ~ has been allotted the major portfolio of Finance, second only to Home.
In the immediate perspective, she will have to choreograph in July the budget for 2019-20, not to forget the faltering economy in the wider canvas, chiefly, the persistently adverse impact of demonetisation and GST. Not easily explained is Rajnath Singh’s transfer to Defence, though he will have a critical role to play in the discord over Rafale, not to ignore a welter of issues relating to the Services.
Next to Mr Shah, a critical induction has been that of the former Foreign Secretary, Mr S. Jaishankar, as External Affairs Minister. He is largely credited with having resolved the stand-off with China over Doklam and negotiating the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008, then as ambassador to the United States. Ergo, from the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, he has distinguished himself as a throughly professional career diplomat.
The ministerial embroidery is therefore an award that he richly deserves. He will be helming South Block at a particularly critical juncture in relations with Pakistan, most importantly in the aftermath of developments in Pulwama and Balakot. There might have been a faint thaw in the freeze had Imran Khan been invited to the swearing-in ceremony.
Above all, it would have been a grand gesture on the part of Mr Modi. An opportunity to register a measure of dramatic forward movement in bilateral ties has been lost by proffering a strained argument ~ Pakistan is not a member of Bimstec whose heads were on the offshore guest-list. A technical argument has thus been accorded precedence over pragmatism.
An invitation to the Pakistan Prime Minister would have been a warm-hearted start to the new innings, just as the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan was a grand and almost unilateral gesture on the part of Mr Khan. The freeze may yet persist on either side of the Radcliffe Line. By that token, Mr Jaishankar succeeds to a depleted inheritance.
Yet given his professional acumen, it is fervently to be hoped that there will be progress on the thorniest foreign policy issue. Aside from the inductions, notable no less has been the exclusion of Suresh Prabhu, Maneka Gandhi and Radha Mohan Singh for what they call unsatisfactory performance. ‘Twas a famous victory, but some good must come of it.
And that task devolves on Mr Narendra Modi’s new team under the dual authority of the two most powerful men in the party. Unmistakable was the pregnant symbolism of the glittering marquee … as both took the oath of office.